Two terrorist attacks were foiled on Wednesday, Oct. 30, in Tunisia. Following the targeted political assassinations and attacks killing security forces members, Tunisia is facing a new turning point in its revolution. The main defendant: the current authorities, who have trivialized violence and terrorism for too long and opened the doors to those who encourage it.
They have been warned! A year and a half ago, a report in the Maghreb daily pointed out the existence of training camps and a whole Salafist emirate in Tunisia’s northern town of Sejnane.
Despite the conclusive evidence and subsequent reports published by various other independent media and NGOs, including the Tunisian Human Rights League, the current government has completely denied the reports. There is no such thing in the country. “It is a scarecrow,” different ministers shouted in unison.
Later on, other training camps were discovered by media and citizens. Yet, the rule of the troika maintained the same line: “It is the conspiracy theory; you are lying; the media of shame; you want to destabilize the government.”
Denying a local media report one day, the Interior Ministry even had the audacity to talk about athletes who were jogging in Jabal ech Chaambi, precisely where dozens of terrorists had been found and where soldiers had been slaughtered and killed.
Imams delivering hate speeches, senior public officials calling for death, MPs and senior officials of the ruling Ennahda party threatening lynching have become common in Tunisia, ever since the Oct. 23 elections. Yet, they go unpunished. Sometimes, even the doors of the Carthage Palace are open to them.
These favorable signals coming from the top did not fail to encourage the various Salafists’ popular bases. In Tunis, and even on TV, they do not hesitate to shout, “Death to the Jews!” “We are all Bin Laden!” “We are the future martyrs!” It is the typical discourse seen in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
Of course, the media has strongly denounced such verbal abuse. Many analysts have underlined the danger of allowing those responsible for these speeches to remain unpunished, but in vain.
Following successive denials and facing conclusive evidences, the current authorities found another strategy: justification. Henceforth, they talk about the freedom of expression, a new culture, and Tunisian children who did not come from Mars.
This second wave of favorable signals has further encouraged extremists, who have turned against their protectors in the government by bluntly dealing with them as unbelievers.
The attack on the US Embassy in Tunis on Sept. 14, 2012, was a turning point in this regard. The Salafists who entered and vandalized the embassy and burned cars in the parking lot were protected by the police upon their arrival, as several videos showed at that time. They were released a few months later, despite the protests by several NGOs and a scathing statement by the US ambassador.
Their leader, Abu Iyadh, even dared to challenge the then interior minister, Ali Laarayedh, to announce a conference at the el-Fatah mosque in Tunis, while he was officially a wanted man. He entered the mosque, made a hate speech (that was broadcast live) and departed without any problem. The mosque is in the center of Tunis. We have learned today that Abu Iyadh has fled into Libya and no warrant was issued by the Tunisian authorities.
Another emblematic case of neglect that has encouraged radical Salafists is the case of the young imam Bilal Chaouachi, who got Tunisians accustomed to his violent and hate speeches in mosques and on television. He was recruited by the Ministry of National Education, under the pretext that he was a victim of the old regime.
These encouraging signs for extremists and Salafists have not stopped thus far. A few days ago, four men wearing the niqab [a traditional face veil worn by women] were arrested by the police. They were released on Oct. 29 by the judge. There is no official law banning a man from wearing the niqab. However, we are under a state of emergency, terrorist acts took place in recent weeks and there have been assassinations targeting politicians and members of the security forces.
About 10 days ago, Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh said that terrorism was totally defeated. This morning [Oct. 30], the governor of Sousse downplayed the suicide attack on the beach, and said that everything was normal now.
The day before yesterday, the spokeswoman of an association inciting discord, violence and hate among Tunisians was arrested for verbally abusing the security forces. She was released on the same day and was received the next day [Oct. 29] by the Minister for Women’s Affairs.
In parallel to all these lax signals by the regime, the Libyan-Tunisian border has become a sieve for weapons and explosives. It is consecrated land for smugglers, and also for extremist Salafists who have completely benefited from the internal war in the Interior Ministry and overwhelmed security forces and the military.
Weapons caches are being discovered regularly. The authorities have taken advantage of that for propaganda, and for saying that they have been effectively fighting terrorism. However, for every weapons cache unearthed, how many others are still undiscovered? This gains more significance since we know that terrorists sometimes benefit from the complicity of the neighborhood [in which they operate], as was the case in the town Sidi Ali Ben Aoun last week.
Terrorism is increasingly being trivialized in Tunisia, with a regime that encourages it — sometimes by complicity and often by naïveté.
This terrorism, criticized for months by the media, has left the mountains and desert and entered the cities. It does not only kill soldiers (who are ready to die, as the former foreign minister once said), but it also threatens civilians.
Despite all this, the government and the president continue to believe that they have succeeded in their mission, and continue to say that terrorism exists in every country. Yet it turns out that only in Tunisia are potential terrorists encouraged and protected by the authorities, and only in Tunisia do authorities contradict the media, which have denounced and caught terrorism!
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